Teddy bears are among the most cuddled and beloved of childhood companions, but they are relatively new in the world of toys. The story of their U.S. origins is probably the most famous. When President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt failed to make a kill on a hunting trip in November of 1902, his companions caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to give him an easy target. The President would not fire. Instead, he declared, "Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal."

Washington Post artist Clifford K. Berryman immortalized the scene when he drew it in a political cartoon for the paper called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." That month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom made a stuffed bear doll, called "Teddy's Bear," and placed it in their display window with the cartoon. The bear was a sensation, prompting the Michtoms to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Meanwhile, around the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff created a soft toy bear for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, who owned a big toy factory. Steiff's idea for the bear, called a Bar 55PB, came from his drawings of the animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler, George Borgfeldt, discovered it at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, and promptly ordered 3,000 of them. By World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys in the United States, Germany, and England.

Steiff bears made between 1903 and 1905 are the most-sought after. They feature hump backs, long snouts, long arms with curved paws, and big tapered feet—after 1905, the trademark Steiff button was sewn into their ears. The earliest Ideal teddy bears, which are also highly valued, look very different; they have triangular faces, chubby bodies, and long straight limbs.

The heyday of teddy bears was between 1906 and 1908, during Roosevelt's second term. Along with regular bears, manufacturers produced novelty models, like the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which featured the president's large teeth. The 1917 Patriotic Bear, made during World War I, was red, white, and blue and had electric light bulbs for eyes.

Before World War II, many new teddy-bear makers got their start. In Germany, Bing made mechanical bears while Schuco focused on miniature bears. Hermann bears from this period are also highly regarded. In Great Britain, Dean's started making bear toys in 1915, while Merrythought got into the business in 1930. J.K. Farnell made the original "Winnie the Pooh" bought for Christopher Robin in 1921.

Other early-century teddy-bear makers include Harwin & Co., Chad Valley, William J. Terry and Chiltern in England; Knickerbocker, Bruin, Aetna, and Gund in the United States; and...

After the war, the U.S. market was overwhelmed with cheap plush toys from Asian factories. By the end of the '60s, the traditional teddy bear seemed to be on the verge of extinction. But when teddy bear collector Peter Bull published his 1969 book on his obsession, interest in old-fashioned bears surged. Christie's hosted the first auction devoted to antique and vintage teddy bears in 1985, the same year the Teddy Bear Artists Guild was founded in the United States.

Thanks to the interest in old-fashioned teddy bears, there are a lot of deliberate fakes on the market. They often incorporate elements of the old teddy bears, including long arms, back humps, and straw stuffing, but in the wrong combinations, and appear suspiciously dirty. Knowing the features of antique bears can help you identify the fakes.

For example, vintage teddy bears were most often made out of wool mohair. Silk plush bears were introduced around 1930, but cotton plush wasn't used until after World War II and synthetics didn’t appear until the 1950s. The earliest bears have boot-button eyes. In the 1920s, glass eyes became the most common, while in the 1950s eyes were made of plastic. Each manufacturer had its own unique nose stitching—early noses were stitched out of woven silk.

The oldest antique teddy bears are hard-stuffed with excelsior, also known as wood wool. If a vintage bear is lightweight, it was probably stuffed with fibers from the kapok tree. Bears filled with foam are newer. As for the paws, the ones on vintage bears had pads made of felt or cotton, although the cotton would have worn out and been replaced by now. Velvet and rexine (a fake leather) were also used for paw pads starting in the late 1930s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Charlie Bears 'cookie' Isabelle Lee Mohair Ltd Edition Of Only 100 Very RareA Lovely Antique Vintage Chiltern Hugmee Mohair Teddy Bear 1930sBeautiful Antique Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear C1900s Glass Eyes Humpback Steiff?Bedhead By Charlie Bears Brand New ~ Isabelle Collection Mohair BearAntique Steiff Donkey On Wheels Soft Toy Teddy Bear - Unusual!Charlie Bears Teddy Bear Benson Charlie Bear, With Tags Antique 1930s Steiff Teddy Bear Co. Bully Dog W Horsehair Collar & Ff Button2004 Madame Alexander Doll 8" Wendy & Muffy Vanderbear #33635 Mint In Box Le 112Vintage 1940's Steiff Gold Plush Teddy Bear - Unusual!Very Rare Antique Early British Harwin Humped Mohair Teddy Bear 1910s 13"Rare Antique Early British Farnell Mascot Soldier Small Teddy Bear, 1910s 8 3/4"Cheap! Rare Button In Ear 1906 Steiff Antique Vintage German Teddy Bear 8 Inch Charlie Bears Fairy Wishes 2016 Isabelle Collection All Pre Ordered! C1900-1930 Lg 21" Tall Steiff Zotty? Style Teddy Bear Glass Eyes Estate Find Nr! Antique 1930s Steiff Teddy Bear Co. Red Bully Dog W Ff ButtonSteiff Mohair Bear Very Big Theodor 1920Large 23" Charlie Bear Cheeky Chops With Tags New For 20162 X Charlie Bears. Philomena & Buttons Both With Original Tags And Bag. Cute❤️��Charlie Bears Lauren Teddy With Bag & TagCharlie Bear Plumo Bear Name Shush With Bag & Tags (secret Collection)Gorgeous Charlie Bear Plumo Year Bear 2013 With Tags Lot Of 12 Steiff & Hermann Bears Animals Most Fully Jointed W/buttons And Tags Antique 1910s Steiff Teddy Bear On Wheels Pull Toy W Ff ButtonLovely Clean And Perky Gabrielle Design Paddington Bear Old Toy CollectablesCharlie Bears Serena By Isabelle LeeEarly 20th Century Straw Filled Gold Plush Teddy Bear Danny ❤️charlie Bear. Tags& Bag. Perfect Condition. Name Sake Bear Antique Steiff Anton And Band Member Companion Wool Felt Doll Circa 1915Beautiful Old 9" Original Baby Steiff Bear - - 1950's - - Silver Script Button Charlie Bear Qvc Exclusive, Molino, Isabelle Lee*little Kinder *a Cute 4 Inch Mohair Bear*no Reserve*Cheap! Button In Ear Steiff Rare Small Antique German 1920 Teddy Bear 7 Inches Antique 1930s Steiff Teddy Bear Co. Large German Spitz Dog W Ff ButtonHuge 36" Charlie Bear Chumley Now Retired From 2010Lot Of 3 Steiff Cats And 4 Dogs, 8-28 Cm 1x With ButtonAntique Well Loved 11" Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear"edgar" - Lovely Big Old 22" Chiltern Bear - Sailor SuitMid 20th Century Musical Automaton Gold Plush Teddy Bear Pleasant Company American Girl Samantha's Mohair Teddy Bear Antique Teddy Bear Very Play Worn With Much Fur Missing, Damaged2006 Muffy Vanderbear Haute Couture Swan Lake Teddy Bear Mib Le #61/1000Lot Of 20 8" Care BearsPams Exclusive Bears-miniature 3 Inch Tall Mohair Teddy-honeyOriginal Doodles Limited Edition (no 402 Of 2000) From Charlie BearsVintage 1983 Care Bears Lot Of 11 Posable Figures Charlie Bears Teddy Bear Zak Charlie Bear, With TagsPolo Ralph Lauren Teddy Bear Denim Jacket Dungarees Cotton Med Vintage UsaCharlie Bears Minimo Called Dewdrop L/e No 522/2000Muffy Vanderbear Spring Chicken French Bistro Table Chairs Set Doll FurnitureVtg Steiff 010859 Mohair Jointed Bear 15" W Tags SweetPams Exclusive Bears-small 6 Inch Tall Mohair Teddy-katrinaSteiff Little Devil Black Mohair Halloween Bear 667152Lot Of 3 Steiff Hand-puppets, 17 Cm 1x With ButtonVintage Stieff Bear-jointed- Cream Color Mohair-excellent Preowned2002 Muffy Vanderbear Couture Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Teddy Bear New In BoxLot Of 2 Antique Puppets-1 "character" Lion-1 Steiff ? Bear - TlcMargarete Steiff M-1902 Replica 150/32 Mohair 12'' Jointed Teddy Bear Salvatore Ferragamo Teddy Bear Vintage Made In Italy Sailfish Tie Green YellowRare Muffy Vanderbear Dusk To Dawn Millennium Teddy Bear Set Mib Le #1020/20001987 Steiff Polar Bear Replica 0090/11 West Germany Museum Collection Nrfb Hk4